One of the points of Walkabout, is to be a game without numbers.
I like the idea of a game where the narrative is driven purely by traits; where every bonus is pulled back to a physical piece of paper that describes something within the fictional world. I don't like the idea of a game where a single action falls back on an arbitrary value that may not be relevant to the situation at hand, or a table of predetermined outcomes that might not make sense in context.
I think the idea of a combat mechanism where two players weave their intentions back and forth until someone starts getting a clear advantage. It seems that the current system does this.
But I'm worried about the notion of too many traits getting thrown into a situation...and how many is too many?
The way the current combat system stands, two evenly matched combatants will have a tendency to face off against one another in a stalemate. The draw of the tokens might favour one side or the other, and the strategic choices of one character might tip the balance toward them...but all in all, the narrative of the story will leave two offensive characters racking up the wounds on one another at an even pace, while two defensive characters will simply dance around one another like boxers in a ring. An equally matched defensive character facing off against an offensive character will see hit after hit applied and deflected, and then.the more enduring of the two characters might wear down their opponent by not losing their edge.
If each combatant only has a small number of traits to bear on a situation, their action sequences will be short before they have to re-engage the set up procedure. If each combatant has a huge number of traits to interact with, then they might narrate a dozen or more actions in their sequence. Almost like some computer game where the mashing of certain button combinations is capable of unleashing devastation on a foe.
It's a fairly different style of play compared to most games I've encountered.
One of the problems lies in multi-character combats, more than just one on one. This is where things can get really deadly and possibly out of control in a hurry.
If we assume that six successes eliminate someone completely (1 = minor penalty/situational, 2 = major penalty/situational, 3 = major penalty/short term, 4 = major penalty/long term, 5 = major penalty/permanent, 6 = out-of-play/permanent), and we assume that a typical trait has a 50/50 chance of providing some kind of benefit to it's user, then on average if one side of a conflict has 12 traits more in their favour than the other, then we can pretty much guarantee that the side with the higher number of traits will completely obliterate the side with the lower number in a single action sequence. This knocks out a single named foe. If one side has an advantage of half a dozen traits or more, they're likely to win the conflict in two action sequences...and things will be harder in that second exchange because the weaker party will have probably racked up a few more penalties during the first exchange. If one side has an advantage of four traits, they're likely to win the exchange in three exchanges...they'll probably accumulate a few penalties of their own from a savvy opponent, but the chance of a win is still pretty high.
If a combat occurs with two combatants against one, each of those two combatants can basically add together their beneficial traits when working out who has the advantage and how many action sequences the conflict should last. It becomes even more favourable to the larger group because both of those combatants are dealing their successes as damage to a single enemy, and they might also gain the advantage of a teamwork bonus due to their relationships to one another. If two combatants have a total advantage of eight traits over their opponent, they might finish him off in a single round by virtue of the fact that they are tag-teaming...the enemy has to split his successes against two sets of incoming actions, while they get to focus on a single foe.
If a combat occurs with two-on-two, it could easily be scaled back to two one-on-one conflicts. If a combat occurs between sides with two and three respective combatants, it could be scaled back to a one-on-one and a one-on-two conflict. The miniatures game "Confrontation" actually did this with melee actions and it worked pretty well to simplify and streamline combat, but I thinks it's a bit unwieldy and a bit too restrictive for an RPG.
Something to think about.
Another thing that has been raised by a few people is the notion that once a player is drawing eighteen tokens from their bag, they're automatically going to be emptying the entire bag. They can't draw any more and they'll automatically know what their full hand of tokens will consist of. This is where my dilemma about numbers comes in. If a player can apply three core traits to a situation through relevant keywords, they are automatically drawing six tokens. If they have twelve traits that can provide a benefit to the situation, they're emptying their entire bag.
I'm toying with the notion of limiting the number of tokens that can be applied to a situation (let's use "six" as an arbitrary figure). But do I limit the total number of traits? Do I limit the number of positive traits that can be applied to a situation (but leave the possible negative traits open)? Do I limit the differential (positive traits minus negative traits can never exceed value "six")? Do I force players to cancel out positives and negatives until only one type applies to the situation (or until there are no more than "six" traits in effect)? Do double traits count as two points toward the maximum number of traits involved (I have two single advantage traits and two double advantage traits, that's a total of "six" trait levels in my favour)? Or not (I have three single advantage traits and three double advantage traits, that only counts as "six" traits, but i gives me a total bonus of nine trait levels)?
Do I make experienced characters more powerful by increasing the number of traits they may apply to a situation.
Something else to think about, and I'm thinking that this could be something that makes or breaks the game.